You might think I’m crazy, my neighbors probably think I’m crazy and if you listen to me your neighbors might think you’re crazy.  And you might be crazy if you listen to me, but you will be in better shape.  Try sledgehammer training.

In the effort to get fit you don’t have to rely on traditional methods of training or standard types of fitness equipment.  Dumbbells and barbells are great, as are kettlebells, but there are other non-traditional implements that can be used to improve your overall physical fitness level.
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Which brings us to the sledgehammer, as in a large, heavy hammer wielded with both hands.  There’s not much technique involved, but there is the need to exercise caution, so don’t go and swing away at something for 20 minutes the first time you try this kind of training.  You need to acclimatize your body to the overall demands that sledgehammer training will put on your body.

I wish I could say I thought of this program all by my lonesome, but alas it is not true.  For this I give credit to a Mr. Reinhard Engels who has come up with a simplistic yet brilliant approach to the indoor use of the sledgehammer.  He has worked out a simple yet effective total body routine that can be performed indoors in a small area in about 15 minutes, with a 10-pound sledgehammer.

Completing Reinhard’s “Shovelglove” routine is the prerequisite for embarking on a full-fledged, out-doors, bash-the-heck-out-of-a-tree-stump training program.

And here’s a quick note on the concept of “hardcore” as it applies to working out.  Hardcore is a state of mind, in that a person is willing to deviate from convention and use all the tools and knowledge available in order to come up with an interesting, fun and effective way to train.

Hardcore isn’t going to a gym and struggling and straining and making loud noises in order to do curls or leg extensions or the bench press.  Being big or wearing old, ripped, tattered workout clothes don’t make someone hardcore.  If you’re hardcore, you don’t train with belts, wrist wraps or spend most of your time on machines.

Don’t be intimidated by the concept of hardcore, embrace it.

Once you’ve spent a month or two with the “Shovelglove” you can venture outside and seek out an old tree stump, log or railroad tie or score an old tire from a local auto repair shop.

All you need is a 10-pound sledge, safety goggles (to prevent anything you hit from shooting into your eyes) and the willingness to work hard.  This kind of training is great for every part of your body from your fingers to your toes, and especially works on your core.  Core training is all the rage these days and nothing will work your core like 20 minutes swinging a sledgehammer.

The first time you head outside, after you warm up with some “Shovelglove” moves, spend only 10 minutes actually hitting something   You will be generating quite a bit of force so you don’t want to overdo and suffer an injury.  Working on terrain, and not on a level gym floor, will force your body to move in ways that you probably aren’t used to, which is another reason that you don’t want to do too much right off the bat.

Do yourself a favor and take your time, as the best approach is to “sledge” for about 10 minutes at a time three times per week.  From here, you can add time to your sessions until you can go for about 25 minutes at the most.

You will be amazed at how sledgehammer training will improve your physical fitness.  Buy a sledgehammer now.

Sledgehammer training is a great non-traditional method that can improve functional strength for lacrosse.

Regardless of the phase of training, sledgehammer training is a low-tech, inexpensive, highly effective sport-specific method of training for lacrosse.  The demands placed on the body – specifically true core strength – by shooting and passing motions make sledgehammer training an incredibly appropriate strength training exercise.

Swinging a sledgehammer can increase strength that will help to improve both phases of the lacrosse swing, the draw (pulling the stick overhead or “side arm” and behind the shoulder) and the release (the forward and downward “throw”).  There are a variety of ways to incorporate the sledgehammer into a lacrosse-specific strength-training program and build functional strength in the muscles of the shoulders and torso.

The basic sledgehammer swing is a great way to develop true core strength and improve endurance, as well.  Hitting a tire or log with a sledgehammer is the basic move and serves as a viable alternative to the using a cable machine.  Also, sledgehammer training can be performed outside in conjunction with sport-specific sprinting, agility and skill drills.

It’s important to keep in mind that the sledgehammer swings should be used as a complimentary training method, not as a manner to try to replicate the shooting/passing motion used in lacrosse.  The weight of the sledgehammer should not be so much to prevent proper swing technique and the speed that approximates the speed of the lacrosse shot.  Taking the sledgehammer all the way back into the draw position and following through properly through the release range should be the main priorities so as not to change the mechanics of the swing.

Another key point when using the sledgehammer is to “train against the shot,” and not just work from the shooting side.  So players should work from both the right and left sides when swinging the sledgehammer in an attempt to minimize any strength imbalances.  If it is apparent that a strength imbalance exists, the player can perform extra work on the weak side in an attempt at achieving symmetry.  Strength and flexibility imbalances can contribute to injuries, so addressing any potential asymmetries is very important.

Sledgehammer training is an efficient, effective, inexpensive and fun sport-specific method of training for lacrosse.

A weighted vest is a simple but effective way to increase the difficulty of your workouts.  Wear a weighted vest during a sledgehammer training session and feel the difference 20-pounds can make.

A weighted vest is a great way to make a standard workout more difficult, combine sledgehammer training with a weighted vest and you’ll see and feel this for yourself.  This past weekend I enjoyed the great outdoors and Velcro-ed on my 20-pound weighted vest as I embarked on a 30-minute, 500 swing workout.

I performed three sets of 100 swings with the 10-pound sledgehammer, one set of 80 swings and two sets of 60 swings with the 20-pound sledgehammer.  The sets took me between 2-3 minutes to complete and I rested for 2-minutes in between each set, making up a total workout time of just a hair under 30-minutes.  The addition of the weighted vest makes the workout more difficult than you would think as the added pounds have the effect of slowing you down even though this effect isn’t obvious.

The weighted vest has this effect of making work more difficult regardless of the activity.  With calisthenics, running, sprinting and agility drills and even strength training, the weighted vest increases the degree of difficulty and provides a great stimulus for improving fitness.

A weighted vest is a great investment, as this training accessory is incredibly versatile and can be used to make just about every possible kind of workout more difficult, and as a result more effective.  My advice is to purchase a weighted vest that allows you to add and remove weight as the situation dictates.  A good rule of thumb to follow is that for any kind of running or agility drills do not use a weighted vest that is 10% heavier than your body weight.  For other kinds of activity like calisthenics or strength training, you can go heavier as your level of fitness allows.

There are many kinds of weighted vests to choose from and people of all fitness levels, shapes and sizes can find a vest that’s right for them.  Buy a weighted vest and start to enjoy the conditioning benefits that they have to offer.

As a personal trainer and a strength coach – and from my own workouts – I can offer some interesting tips that will help you to get the most out of your sledgehammer training workouts.

Since I started using the sledgehammer in my own workouts and in the workouts of my personal training clients and sports teams, I’ve come up with – what I think – are some important pointers and observations that can be of benefit to anyone who trains with the sledgehammer.  Being that I utilize the sledgehammer in my training once per week, and use it several more times in the sessions of my personal training clients, I have hit on (pun intended) some useful tips.  Tens of thousands of sledgehammer swings have helped me figure out the best way to incorporate this kind of training into a traditional routine.

I’ve also come to some conclusions – or opinions, more accurately – about the best techniques to use when training with the sledgehammer.  When it comes to what to hit with the sledgehammer, wood is best.  Tires are fine, they don’t wear out as much and you can use them indoors, but I don’t like the rebound; I think it makes the exercise a bit easier.  That being said, this can be chalked up more to personal preference than empirical certainty, so if you prefer tires stick with them.

When it comes to using wood, I’ve used logs about 24 inches high and stumps that are pretty much flush to the ground.  At first I thought hitting the higher log made the exercise a bit easier, but after spending time (and effort!) hitting both, I think that there’s not much difference between the two.  Actually, hitting the flush to the ground stump might be a bit easier since a more complete range of motion is needed.  Hitting the log interrupts the range of motion in mid swing, which is awkward and results in more shock being absorbed by the hands and arms.  I use both the logs and the stumps in order to get variety in my training.

You can vary your stance when swinging the sledgehammer, which will have the effect of placing different demands on the muscles of the torso.  Using the differences in terrain, and perhaps one foot being higher than the other or hitting a stump/log at an angle, can also provide the opportunity for variety.

I use the sledgehammer as part of a traditional workout – as in a circuit training routine – and as a standalone workout, and while both strategies are great, I prefer to use the sledgehammer all by itself.  I set either a time limit or a swing limit and proceed.  The minimum time frame for my sledgehammer workout is 20 minutes with the max at about 30-35 minutes.  And varying the weight of the sledgehammer used has a lot to do with the total swings and/or time limit; usually the heavier sledgehammer will result in a workout with fewer total swings.

A good “light/heavy” rule of thumb to use with your sledgehammer training is that the heavy sledgehammer that you use should be twice as heavy as the light sledge.  Beginners can use the 5-pound/10-pound combination, intermediate the 8-pound/16-pound and advanced the 10-pound/20-pound combo.  You can use both sledges during the same workout or stick to using one weight for the duration.  That’s the great thing about sledgehammer training, there’s no expert looking over your shoulder telling you what’s right or wrong.  Hey, I’m just trying to help steer you in the right direction so that you can get the most out of this form of exercise.

The most important thing is that you try using the sledgehammer.  Sledgehammer training is portable, inexpensive, effective, and efficient and can be done outside regardless of the weather.  So give it a shot let me know if you have any questions.

As we inch closer towards spring, now is the time for personal trainers and weekend warriors to prepare themselves for some good, old fashion outdoors workouts.

As much as I love working out outside in the winter, I totally understand that there are people who’d rather hibernate and keep themselves in a temperature-controlled environment.  Despite my willingness to train outside, as a personal trainer and strength coach, many times my enthusiasm for outdoors strength training, sledgehammer training and sprinting doesn’t rub off on my clients.

And I suspect many of you feel the same way about training outside in the winter.

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But now that spring is about to spring, I expect a whole bunch of folks to join me in the great outdoors over the next several weeks.  And this is my annual call to arms for folks who just think that the only thing that you can do outdoors is walk or jog.  Nothing can be further from the truth.

If you’ve been a regular visitor to the site you know that sledgehammer training and kettlebell work are ideal forms of outside exercise.  Whether you’re home or on vacation, the sledgehammer and kettlebells are among the most portable pieces of equipment that you can own.  And of course the same holds true for dumbbells.

On the first sunny, 55-degree day that we’ll no doubt get in the next couple of weeks, grab a couple of pairs of dumbbells and head on outside.  If it’s too muddy to workout on grass, use your driveway.  Check out the videos on the site that show how to perform calisthenics and body weight squats and incorporate these moves into your outdoors workout.

If you’re a total nut like me, take a barbell into your backyard and combine traditional strength training moves with sledgehammer training and kettlebell swings.  In about 30-minutes you can get a better and more enjoyable workout in your backyard than you can in any gym or with any personal trainer.  Except if I’m that trainer, of course.

And if you have the urge to run, don’t jog, but sprint.  Step off a 20-30 yard area in your back yard or in a local park and sprint as hard as you can over the distance, rest about 30-seconds and repeat until you’ve done 10 sprints.  If you do these sprints the right way you’ll get a much better cardiovascular workout with much less stress on your body than you can get from jogging/distance running.

If you really want to get out and commune with nature and enjoy the great outdoors, there’s nothing wrong with just going for a nice 30-minute walk instead of a jog.  There’s nothing jogging has to offer that’s better than going for a nice, brisk walk.

Those of you who are lucky enough to live in a place where the weather never gets as miserable as it does in the northeast region of the U.S. where I am, or in other parts of the world where the weather is even worse than it is here, don’t take for granted the awesome opportunity that you have to exercise outside pretty much 365 days a year.  Getting exercise outside is one of the most enjoyable experiences that there is, and is a great way to keep from falling into a rut.

Here’s an outdoors workout that proves that snow and freezing temperatures don’t have to keep you cooped up indoors.  Grab your kettlebells and sledgehammer.  Training has never been this simple and effective.

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After a couple of weeks of really lousy, gloomy weather – a couple of minor snow incidents, rain, a snow storm and freezing temps – resulted in me having a bad case of cabin fever.  I needed to get outdoors and get some exercise.  Kettlebell and sledgehammer training; just what the doctor ordered.

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This past Sunday I grabbed my 10-pound sledgehammer and 2 kettlebells and headed outside to grab a quick 25-minute workout in the snow and freezing temperatures that helps to make New Jersey in February so wonderful.  And please forgive me for the skipping video; I guess it was a little too cold for my laptop to deliver a smooth frame rate.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I did; 30 jumping jacks, 20 kettlebell swings, 10 “bell up” kettlebell military presses and 40 sledgehammer swings.  I ran through this circuit 4 times, with each circuit taking a bit over 4 minutes to finish, and rested for about 3 minutes in between circuits.  “Bell up” presses are done by holding the kettlebell with the round part – the bell – facing up.  This adds a significant degree of difficulty to the lift and requires a lot more hand and forearm strength, and shoulder stability, than is needed to do traditional presses.

The first time through the circuit, I used the 35-pound kettlebell for the swings and the “bell up” presses, and used a 50-pound girya for the remaining circuits.  And I alternated between traditional 2-hand kettlebell swings and the DARC swings, where you let go at the top of the swing and switch hands.

I tell you, it felt great to get outside and into the fresh, clean, cold morning air.  Frankly, I was sick of working out exclusively in the gym for the past three weeks.  So if the weather’s got you down, and you haven’t had the change to get outside, don’t let snow and cold stop you.  Layer up, grab your gear and have yourself a great outdoors workout.

Sledgehammer strength training offers a unique and challenging way to improve your level of conditioning and personal trainers and do-it-yourself weekend warriors will benefit from strength training the sledgehammer way.

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For this workout I combined sledgehammer swings with a non-traditional exercise that I call “Cliffhangers,” and pull-ups.  As you can see in the video clip my deck plays a big part in the workout.  The Cliffhangers are a great example of a non-traditional strength training exercise that will improve the strength of your entire upper body.

You should all be familiar with sledgehammer swings and pull-ups by now.

Cliffhangers are something that I’ve been toying with for a while, and have just recently started to include in my strength training sessions and using them in combination with other strength training exercises.  The Cliffhangers, as I do them on my deck, place a great deal of stress on the fingers, hands and forearms as there is nothing to actually grab on to as in traditional pull-ups, minimizing the help that you get from the thumb.

Using the surface of the deck requires that the hands work in an upside down “L-shape,” where the fingers at the base where they meet the hand and the thumb is held tightly against the hand, as there is nothing for it to wrap around.  Once the grip is established, from the hanging position tighten your upper back, shoulders and abdominal muscles and slightly – slightly – bring your knees forward as you attempt to traverse the surface.  Use short movements and don’t let your hands get any wider than your shoulders at any time.

As you can see in the video clip, my hands give out after about 12 feet and 10 seconds.  Working the Cliffhangers in with the sledgehammer swings results in the arms fatiguing a lot sooner than when doing either exercise alone.  However, this is all part of the training stimulus and you will see that your strength and performance of these moves will improve by working them together.

The deck pull-ups are a great finish to the circuit. Given the massive amount of work that the arms are doing with the swings and Cliffhangers, the pull-ups are very difficult to perform.  Since I do pull-ups and variations at least twice per week, 3 pull-ups in this circuit is sufficient for me.

The entire workout took 25 minutes to complete.  I warmed up for approximately 5 minutes and performed 5 circuits.  The first 2 circuits I used the 10-pound sledgehammer for 60 swings, did the Cliffhangers for 12 feet/10 seconds and performed 3 pull-ups. For circuits 3 and 4 I used the 20-pound sledgehammer for 40 swings with the same routine for the other moves.  For the final circuit I used the 20-pounder for 40, completed the other moves and finished off with 40 swings with the 10-pounder.

Each circuit took approximately 2 minutes to complete and I rested for 2 minutes in between each circuit.

Give the circuit a try and also try to find a place either around the house or at the gym where you can try the Cliffhangers.

Today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the day that kicks off the Christmas shopping season.  However, to me Black Friday is the day when people start to suffer from “Eater’s Remorse,” as they feel guilty for the foods they ate – and should have enjoyed – on Thanksgiving, and start to stress about the next 6 weeks of holiday eating.

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Eater’s Remorse is borne out of all the nonsense that’s been spread by some personal trainers and diet gurus that foods are “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy.”  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; moralizing about food is ridiculous, pitiful, embarrassing, etc.

What did you eat yesterday?  Pumpkin crumb pie, pumpkin spice Swiss roll, sautéed artichoke hearts, mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows and walnuts, sautéed mushrooms, cauliflower patties, stuffing and turkey with gravy?

Oh, that’s what I ate.

Actually, I had 2 pieces of the pumpkin crumb pie.  For breakfast, I had pumpkin walnut pancakes, like 5 or 6 of them.  And I had a late snack of sausage Stromboli and a grilled veggie tower featuring mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, zucchini and mozzarella cheese that was left over from Wednesday’s dinner.  I never thought twice about eating any of this stuff.  As a matter of fact, I had been looking forward to this day since the end of October when pumpkins start to make their annual appearance.  Pumpkin is only on the scene for a few weeks, so you have to enjoy it while you can.

So did you eat anything worse?  That’s a trick question.  When it comes to food there is no “worse.”  The problem is that way too many people have bought into the nonsense that there is.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I endorse overeating or eating a lot of desserts as a regular part of your eating program.  Regular, I said.  Over eating is going to happen, as is under eating.  Sometimes you will eat too much of a good thing, or not enough of it.  You’ll also skip meals, eat when you aren’t hungry and have a big bowl of ice cream at midnight.

You’ll go to Christmas parities – excuse me – holiday parties, and have one drink too many or eat too many pigs in a blanket, or just eat sweets.  Big deal.  Unless you’re a jet setter, how many parties are you going to, 3 or 4?  If you’re doing the right thing the rest of the time, these incidents are all part of eating properly and insignificant in the big-picture of your overall eating routine.

Avoiding foods throughout the year won’t help you to avoid them now.  If you’re afraid of food in November and December you’ll be afraid of foods in July.  Whether it’s a big Christmas blowout or a Fourth of July barbeque, food avoiders are always afraid of food and looking for foods to avoid.

So if you had fun and ate all that good stuff yesterday, that was yesterday.  Don’t freak out and try to go on a diet today or Monday.  Get back to your routine, hit the gym and look forward to the next party or night out.  As for me, I’m off to get my sledgehammer and enjoy a nice, crisp fall day exercising outdoors.

This week’s video fitness tip features a superset that consists of sledgehammer training combined with the hang clean-front squat and press that’s performed with Apollon’s Axle, a 2-inch thick bar.  The thicker bar totally changes the dynamic involved with performing any exercise, and makes this particular exercise extremely challenging.

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As I’ve been telling you, sledgehammer training is a great alternative to traditional methods of strength training.  This week I’m going to show you how to combine sledgehammer training with a compound, complex movement to create an intense workout that is more efficient and effective than your standard workout.

The sledgehammer training part of this workout speaks for itself, so I’ll spend a little time describing the hang clean-front squat and press.  A quick note, some refer to the front squat and press as a “barbell thruster,” but I prefer my more descriptive term.  For the purpose of brevity, in the title of my item I used “barbell thrusters” despite the fact that I added the hang clean.  Anyway…

The hang-clean-front squat and press is a very challenging complex, one that certainly can be performed as a stand-alone exercise.  This move is called a “complex” because it combines two or more compound movements, in this case I’ve combined three.  This kind of routine – if performed properly – provides the highest possible level of intensity.

As you can see in the video, the complex starts with a hang clean, and after the bar is in the rack position across the collarbone, I perform a front squat and start the push press during the decent.

Rather than use a regular 7-foot Olympic bar, I chose to use my Apollon’s Axle for this week’s workout. The 2-inch thick bar does more for grip strength and can make any lift more difficult.  It’s 7-feet long just like the Olympic bar and weighs in at about 35-pounds – 10 pounds less than it’s fancy Olympic cousin – but is way more difficult to handle, especially when used for any explosive, pulling movement.

This week’s workout is pretty simple.  I started with 40 swings with my 10-pound sledge and followed up with 5 repetitions of the complex, took about 20-seconds before I took 20 swings with my 20-pound sledgehammer and another 5 reps of the complex.  This took me about 4 minutes.  After the tape stopped rolling, I took 4 minutes off before completed another round of this superset.

In general, I usually rest for a period of time equal to the amount of time it took me to complete the superset.  However, if heavier weights/lower repetitions are used I will rest for as much as twice as long. When designing your own workouts use your judgment, but make sure you don’t rush.  It is always better to take an extra minute or two of rest if that rest allows you to perform more work.

With this kind of high-intensity routine you will be done working after about 20-25 minutes, including your warm up period.  Give this workout a try and see how high-intensity training can kick your butt in less than half the time that it takes to complete a traditional workout.

Tabata intervals are a method of training that typically is used in extremely high-intensity interval training routines and should be employed by personal trainers, strength coaches and anybody who exercises.  This method, named after pioneering researcher Nishimura Tabata, consists of eight intense training intervals of 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is a fitness tip that makes for a hellacious 4-minute workout, but you don’t have to be hard-core in order to reap benefits from Tabatas.

Tabata and his team studied subjects who worked at 170% of their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max – amount of oxygen used during exercise) by exercising on stationary bicycles, and found that VO2 max increased and the subjects’ anaerobic capacity increased by 28%.  So in non-fancy talk, this means Tabatas can improve both aerobic and anaerobic systems.

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Now before you go out and try to work Tabatas into your training program you need to realize that working at this level of intensity is quite a feat. Frankly, this method of training is way out of the realm of possibility for most people, from both mental and physical standpoints.  Most people aren’t capable of physically working at this level of intensity and also can’t comprehend what kind of effort is involved with performing at this level, even if they are “in shape.”  Relatively speaking, very few people can actually sprint at 100% effort for 20 seconds even for one set.

Using Tabata intervals properly is a gut check as much as it is a test of physical conditioning. But despite this high-intensity pedigree, Tabatas can be used with almost every kind of exercise and are suitable for just about everybody to use.  However, especially for beginners, an element of relative intensity must be included or else nothing will be gained from using this interval program.

The best way to get comfortable working with Tabata intervals is to follow the program doing jumping jacks.  Twenty seconds on, ten seconds of rest, for four minutes.  Since you can’t watch your watch while you’re jumping, just perform 20-22 jacks and then check your watch to see if you hit the 20-second mark.  You have to complete at least 20 jacks in order to even scratch the surface of benefits Tabatas can offer.  Adjust accordingly and then rest for 10 seconds on the clock.  Repeat for 4-minutes.

Back to the concept of “relative intensity.”  If you already are in decent shape performing 15 jumping jacks just won’t cut it, whereas for a beginner this may be the perfect amount.  And for beginners, you just can’t walk for 20 seconds and take 10 seconds off, so you may have to jog or trot for 20 seconds before you rest even if you’ve never jogged or trotted.

Even if you’re in pretty good shape doing jumping jacks the Tabata way will give you an idea for how this program could kick your butt with tougher moves.  After jacks try jumping rope, assuming you can jump rope (35-40 times in 20-seconds).  Then move on to squat thrusts (7-10 reps in 20-seconds).

When you’ve made in through these basic moves you’re ready to double up and do 4-minutes of Tabatas with jumping jacks and after a 2-minute rest 4-minutes of squat thrusts.  After you’re good with this, eliminate the 2-minute rest and go for 8-minutes straight.  Now you’re on your way to moving up the ladder of difficulty and intensity.

With this kind of training, even if a person is in phenomenal shape, I recommend taking it slow and using Tabatas no more than twice per week.  Start with these basic movements before moving up to Tabatas with a sledgehammer, kettlebell on a stationary bike or sprinting, and as long as you are at the proper relative intensity, you will reap the benefits unique to Tabatas.